Shady Facts About Bob Crane, The TV Star With A Camera

October 5, 2023 | Byron Fast

Shady Facts About Bob Crane, The TV Star With A Camera

Bob Crane was handsome, he was a famous TV star, and he was the perfect father. Of course, this is Hollywood, and that couldn’t be the whole story. The truth was that Crane had a secret life that involved random women, illicit films, and a shady co-conspirator named John Henry Carpenter. Sadly, he was doomed to a brutal end.

1. He Was Perfectly Normal

Bob Crane was just an average kid growing up in a small town in Connecticut. He was born in July of 1928 and had one older brother. At the age of 11, he picked up an interesting hobby: playing the drums. After a stint with the Connecticut Army National Guard, Crane married his high school sweetheart, Anne Terzian. 

He seemed to have a typical American life—but little did he know, fate had a chilling plan in store for him. 

Bob Crane  in costume in a studio portrait, against a black background

2. He Became The King 

Besides drumming, Crane also wanted to be a radio host. Well, he did so well at it—working for small stations in Connecticut—that LA came calling. He was soon hosting a morning show on KNX in Los Angeles and talking it up with guests like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and even Marilyn Monroe

His show was soon number one, and he received a hefty moniker: “King of the Los Angeles airwaves”. If Crane had been content to stay on the radio, he may have avoided the gut-wrenching tragedy that his life became. Publicity photo of Frank Sinatra in 1944 wearing white shirt and tie.CBS Radio, Wikimedia Commons

3. He Was Recognizable 

Crane became very popular in LA, and it seemed inevitable that he would soon break into television. His first stint was stepping in for Johnny Carson on his game show Who Do You Trust? There were, however, actual acting gigs that followed soon after. He appeared on The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and even The Dick Van Dyke Show. 

However, it wasn't long after landing a part in The Donna Reed Show that Crane's life changed forever.Bob Crane on The Dick Van Dyke Show  in sweater and tieCBS, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966)

4. It Was Unusual 

CBS decided to lure Crane away from The Donna Reed Show with an unusual idea for a sitcom. This was 1965’s Hogan's Heroes. I mean, what could be funnier than Allied prisoners stuck in a German WWII POW camp? Well, when Crane got the script in the mail, he thought the show was a drama

Nope, it was a comedy and when it premiered, America thought it was hilarious. The show reached the top 10 in its first year, and Crane was an instant star. And as we know too well, with stardom comes temptation. Publicity photo of Bob Crane as Col. HoganCBS Television., Wikimedia Commons

5. He Had Desires

Crane had catapulted to stardom in Hollywood, yet back at home he was still married to his high school sweetheart. His conservative wife Terzian—and their three children—could not hold Crane’s attention. He was a big star now, and there were women out there who would do anything to be with him. 

Crane had to make a difficult choice: his blissful, domestic life, or fulfilling his hedonistic desires. Which one do you think won out? 

Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane and his family sitting at a tableGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

6. He Had A Weird Obsession 

Crane, while still married to Terzian, was soon using his celebrity status to woo women. It wasn’t, however, just affairs he was after: He also wanted photos. Crane had an obsession with getting photos taken of women who were wearing no clothes. 

He apparently wasn’t a jerk about it and always asked the women if they would pose for him. Most—maybe because they thought he was handsome—obliged. It seemed like a relatively harmless pursuit. Sadly, Crane didn’t stop there. Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in white jacket taking a photoGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

7. He Wanted More

Crane had his little pile of photos of women in their birthday suits, but somehow he still wasn’t satisfied. He decided he also wanted movies. Of course, back then you couldn’t just set your smartphone on video mode and shoot. You needed equipment. 

Crane’s Hogan’s Heroes co-star Richard Dawson had a friend who was good with movie making equipment. He worked for Sony and had access to what Crane needed. The Sony employee was John Henry Carpenter and when he entered Crane’s life it started a countdown. A countdown to Crane’s murder. Bob Crane in suit and glasses looking at leftRon Galella, Getty Images

8. He Kept On Kissing Her

Bob Crane managed to keep his extra-curricular affairs and his on set life fairly separate. But that was true only until he started carrying on with co-star Cynthia Lynn who played Fraulein Helga. She later remembered kissing Crane for the cameras and after the director yelled cut, they just kept kissing

While Crane and Lynn carried on their affair, she discovered his dirty little hobby. Cynthia Lynn as  Fraulein Helga in white shirtCBS, Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971)

9. He Replaced His Lover

Crane didn’t try to hide the fact that he liked taking pictures of women without clothes. It didn’t bother Lynn, and she even agreed to participate in it. In her mind, there was nothing scandalous about the photos. He just loved doing it, and it made him really happy. 

Lynn actually only lasted one season on Hogan’s Heroes and got replaced by another blonde actor: Patrica Olson. The strange thing was that Olson replaced Lynn in more ways than one: She also became his lover. Of course all of this was happening behind Crane’s wife’s back. How much longer could he keep her in the dark? hogan's heroes Hilda  Sigrid Valdis in trench coat and head scarfCBS, Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971)

10. It Was Done Quickly

By 1970, Crane was still in a secret relationship with Olson and it was in that year he decided to come clean. He divorced his high school sweetheart, and then quickly married Olson. The quicky marriage took place on the Hogan’s Heroes set, and his co-star Richard Dawson stood in as best man. 

In 1971, Olson announced that she was pregnant. Of course, everyone just assumed that Crane was the father. 

Bob Crane and Sigrid Valdis at their weddingBettmann, Getty Images

11. He Was Sure 

When Olson announced that she was pregnant, Crane was surely aware that the child was not his. Why? Because he’d had a vasectomy back in 1968. Who the real father of Scotty Crane was is still a mystery. It didn’t matter to Crane. He was now free of his very conservative wife and was married to the outrageously beautiful Olson. What could possibly go wrong? Well…a lot. 

Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in red sweaterGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

12. She Didn’t Mind

At the beginning of their marriage, things were good between Crane and Olson. Like his previous girlfriend Lynn, Olson didn’t mind Crane’s hobby of taking naughty pictures of other women. Surprisingly, she also didn’t mind that Crane bedded the women as well. She said that he certainly wasn’t breaking the law, and that was all that mattered to her. 

There was another reason why Olson wasn’t jealous of the other women in Crane’s life—and it's quite eerie. Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in house wearGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

13. He Treated Them Like Trash

Olson wasn’t jealous of the other women Crane bedded, because of Crane’s attitude toward them. Olson said that he was simply using them. In fact, he told her that he wished he could make them disappear after he’d finished with them. Olson referred to the women as “human toilet paper”. In her mind, she could never be jealous of toilet paper. 

There was, however, something in Crane’s life that Olson couldn’t put up with. Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane speaking to someoneGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

14. She Was Suspicious

Remember, Crane had a friend, Carpenter, who was handy with the movie making equipment. Well, the two had become quite close. Crane’s new wife Olson thought they were a little too close. She thought that Carpenter had too much sway over her husband, and that he was a bad influence. 

If Olson had convinced her husband to drop Carpenter as a friend, maybe Crane would be alive today.  Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in a carGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

15. It Ended 

In 1971, Hogan’s Heroes came to a grinding halt. It seemed that the conflict in Vietnam was taking its toll on TV-watching Americans: They had less of an appetite for a sitcom about a POW camp. Likely this was good news for Crane. Now he had a chance to say goodbye to Hogan and embrace some more challenging work. Sadly, that’s not exactly what happened. Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in suit sitting on a chairGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

16. He Flopped

Bob Crane’s first two ventures were both Disney feature films: Superdad and Gus. If you don’t remember these Disney classics, it’s because they aren’t Disney classics at all. Neither film ignited excitement from family film going audiences. The movies were both financial flops. But there was something else about the films that spelt trouble for Crane. 

American television actor, radio disc jockey, and drummer Bob Crane (1928 - 1978) smiles for the camera as he sits at a table with a frozen dessert before himTim Boxer, Getty Images

17. He Was Super Bad 

While Crane was working on the Disney film Superdad, he was more like super bad. Around this same time he took his 21-year-old son to a premiere of a movie. This sounds like a normal father-and-son activity until you realize the premiere was for an adults-only movie. Robert Crane has fond memories of the night and enjoyed watching his dad meet up with all the stars. 

And from there, it just got worse.  

Bob Crane As Charlie McCready in suitWalt Disney Productions, Superdad (1973)

18. He Told Stories 

While filming Disney’s Superdad, Crane had an inappropriate habit. He would walk around the set showing his seedy photographs to crew members. Some film sets may have tolerated this kind of behavior, but on a Disney set this meant big trouble. Unfortunately, Bob Crane was about to take it all too far.Bob Crane As Charlie McCready in suit sitting at a tableWalt Disney Productions, Superdad (1973)

19. He Over Shared

Crane also showed his special collection to his Hogan’s Heroes castmate's son—Mark Dawson. Down the road, Mark remembered Crane casually showing him his photos when Mark was 17 years old. Crane then went further and showed the teen the films he’d made, which all featured Crane himself. Mark was at first curious but then felt shocked. 

Mark later admitted, "...Couldn't watch Hogan's the same way again after that". With his bad reputation getting around, Crane was about to land himself in some serious trouble.Bob Crane As Charlie McCready in suit at home speaking to someoneWalt Disney Productions, Superdad (1973)

20. He Had Nowhere To Turn

Disney didn’t want anything more to do with Crane. After all, he’d appeared in two duds and he wasn’t quite in line with Disney’s morals. Then, The National Enquirer had gotten ahold of a few stories about Crane and his scandalous photos. This did not make him seem like a sympathetic character in the eyes of the public.

The problem was that Crane still wanted to act, but no one wanted to hire him. Crane didn’t know what to do, so he turned to the place no actor wants to resort to: dinner theater. Bob Crane As Charlie McCready in tuxedoWalt Disney Productions, Superdad (1973)

21. He Toured

Crane soon began touring with a dinner show called Beginner's Luck, and the program said that he was both the director and star. Between appearances on stage, Crane was still guest-starring on primetime shows like The Love Boat and Police Woman. He also made time to see his buddy Carpenter. What they got up to together was nothing short of scandalous. bob crane in the love boat in white suitABC, The Love Boat (1977–1987)

22. They Had A Routine

Crane and Carpenter had a nightly routine and it went like this: They would go to bars together and use Crane’s celebrity status to pick up women. Once they got a woman home, they would tell her what they wanted to do. What this meant was that they would all engage in intimate acts and they would record the entire experience on film.

 Crane was careful to get the women's consent before the cameras rolled. Most of the women they met had no problem doing it for the camera. Crane was having a ball, but how long could he keep it up for? 

Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter and Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane speaking to each otherGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

23. He Wanted A Change

Crane had, at this point, chosen to live in Phoenix, Arizona, and Carpenter spent a lot of time there as well. Almost 50 years old, Crane made a confession to his eldest son. He said that he wanted to make some changes in his life. For one, he wanted to get a divorce from Olson. Secondly, he wanted was to dump Carpenter as a friend. 

Little did Crane know, two days later, he'd be dead.Bob Crane As Charlie McCready and wife in the movieWalt Disney Productions, Superdad (1973)

24. They Went Out On The Town

On June 28, 1978, Crane had plans to go out on the town with Carpenter. They had plans to meet up with two women they had met previously. Carpenter went over to Crane’s Scottsdale apartment. Before the two men left, Crane got a call from his wife, and they argued loudly. The argument didn’t put a damper on the evening, and Crane and Carpenter went out as planned. 

Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter and Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane speaking to each otherGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

25. They Fought

Crane and Carpenter did meet the two women at a Scottsdale club, but several witnesses saw them having a heated argument. Most speculators conclude that this was the moment that Crane was telling Carpenter that he didn’t want to be friends anymore. 

Regardless of the argument, Crane, Carpenter and the two women moved on to a Scottsdale Road hot spot called the Safari Coffee Shop. This was at 2 am. Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter and Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane speaking to each other in dark place in suitsGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

26. He Wanted To End It

At around 2:30 am, Carpenter said he had to leave in order to pack his suitcase for a trip to LA the next day. Crane also returned home, but once he arrived, he received a call from Carpenter. It seems that Crane continued talking about ending their endless partying—and that meant ending his friendship with Carpenter. 

This was the last time anyone spoke to Crane. Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter in red jacket leavingGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

27. He Didn’t Answer 

The day after witnesses saw Crane and Carpenter arguing, Crane didn’t show up for a meeting at the dinner theater venue. In lieu of his absence, co-star Victoria Ann Berry went to Crane’s apartment. Crane didn’t answer the door, so the actress walked into the apartment. What she saw inside was something she would never forget. Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane looking at a video recorder device in gray sweaterGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

28. It Was Dark

When Berry entered Crane’s apartment, it was dark. She wandered into the bedroom and saw a figure lying on the bed. She thought it was a woman with long dark hair. What she saw, however, wasn’t long dark hair, it was something horrifying: blood. This wasn’t a woman at all. It was Crane’s lifeless body. 

There was also—wrapped around his neck—an electrical cord eerily tied in a bow. A horrified Berry quickly called for help. Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in suitGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

29. He Had No Experience

First on the scene was officer Paulette Kasieta. She secured the scene and waited for detectives to arrive. It was 3 pm when Lieutenant Barry Vassall pulled up outside Crane’s apartment. Like many on the Scottsdale force, he had little experience when it came to dealing with a murder—let alone one involving a celebrity. 

Let’s just say: Things didn’t go quite as they should have. Police Line Do Not CrossTony Webster, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

30. He Made A Trip

Detective Vassal’s first official job on the case of TV star Bob Crane was to do an airport run. The three men he picked up were Crane’s manager Lloyd Vaughn, his attorney Bill Goldstein, and Crane’s son, Robert. Why this menial job wasn’t given to a junior officer is just one unanswered peculiarity. 

Shouldn’t Vassall have been trying to find Crane’s killer instead of taking a drive to the airport? Things continued to go downhill from here. 

Apartment where actor Bob Crane was murderedMarine 69-71, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

31. He Didn’t Seem To Care

Vassall brought Robert Crane, Vaughn, and Goldstein to Crane’s apartment and ushered them in. What Vassal should have been thinking about was these three men adding their fingerprints and footprints—not to mention hair and skin samples—to a scene that they had not yet analyzed. 

This was before the days of DNA, but most detectives knew to keep the scene clear of foreign interference. Vassall was certainly a rookie, and he was messing up this case terribly. Apartment building where actor Bob Crane of Hogan's Heroes fame was murderedMarine 69-71, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

32. There Was A Lot Of Blood

Okay, Vassall had not kept the murder scene secure, but he still must have found some evidence. First off, there was blood—a lot of it. Besides the blood on Crane’s body and in his bed, there was blood on the front door, the exit door, and on the curtain. Of course, detectives assumed that this all came from Crane. 

Next, they decided to look into Crane's "friend," Carpenter.

Police officers in the biopic Auto Focus about Bob Crane Good Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

33. It Was In The Car

When the officers had a chance to look at Carpenter’s rental car, they found more blood. The  blood was on the passenger door on the outside of the vehicle and also inside the vehicle. DNA testing wasn’t available at this time, but you could at least find out what kind of blood it was. The results of the test came back and it was type B.

 Crane had type B blood, and no one else who had used the car did. Surely Carpenter was the guilty party. There was, however, one thing missing. Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter in blue shirtGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

34. It Was Missing

Yes, there was evidence of Crane’s blood type in Carpenter's rental car, but to make an arrest the detectives needed something else: a murder weapon. The investigators had concluded it was a camera tripod, which pointed to Carpenter being guilty. They weren't, however, ever able to locate a blood stained tripod. 

With this vital piece of evidence missing, Carpenter walked away an innocent man. Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter in black jacketGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

35. They Found A Speck 

This may have been the end of the story of Crane’s tragic demise. After all, there were no other suspects. What happened 12 years later, however, was a complete shocker. Jim Raines, a Scottsdale detective found something that the detectives had not closely investigated. 

One of the photos of Carpenter’s rental car showed a small speck. Upon closer examination, they discovered that the speck was brain tissue. This was not as good as finding the weapon, but it was enough to reopen the case. Police gather outside the apartment where actor Bob Crane was beat to deathBettmann, Getty Images

36. It Was The Same Story

Two years later, in 1994, the trial began. The jury heard the same theory about Crane wanting to end his friendship with Carpenter. About how Crane had had it with Carpenter and how he wanted to start a new life away from him. They heard again about how the two men had argued at the restaurant. 

It was the same story, but now they had a speck of brain tissue found in Carpenter’s car. What would a jury do with this new information? Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter sitting on a bedGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

37. They Had An Answer For Everything

Carpenter’s attorneys were more than ready for this high profile trial. They had witnesses who said that the men had been on friendly terms at the restaurant and had not argued. They repeated the information that Scottsdale detectives had never found the murder weapon. 

They also pointed out that the theory about the weapon being a tripod was only concocted because Carpenter worked in the film equipment business—there was no evidence that it was a tripod at all. Carpenter’s attorneys were more than thorough. Now, they just had to explain the photo of brain tissue in Carpeter’s vehicle.  One of the police officers in the case of the murder of Bob Crane in blue shirtBarbara Laing, Getty Images

38. They’d Lost It 

When the prosecution hauled out the photo of brain tissue, Carpenter’s attorneys had an answer ready. They said that the work the Scottsdale detectives had done at the murder scene had been sloppy from the start. They spoke about the contaminated scene at the apartment, and also noted that they only had a photo of the brain tissue. Where, they asked, was the actual speck of tissue? 

They already knew the answer: The detectives had lost it. Carpenter’s attorney’s had given the jury a lot to think about. And then they put the final nail in the coffin. 

Willem Dafoe  as John Carpenter in black suitGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

39. It Was His Own Fault

Carpenter’s attorneys had made the jury doubt that Carpenter was the guilty party in Crane’s murder. They then went one step further: They offered their own theory about what really happened. To illustrate this, they put Crane’s lifestyle on the stand. 

They mentioned Crane’s naughty collection of photos and videos. They talked about his cruising bars in search of more and more women. Their conclusion was that the real wrongdoer was probably someone Crane had crossed: a lover or maybe a lover’s enraged husband. Their theory was that Crane’s unwholesome lifestyle had caused his demise. 

Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in a carGood Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

40. They Came Back With A Verdict

It didn’t take the jury long to come up with an answer: They acquitted John Carpenter. He was a free man, but the trial had taken its toll on him. His private life had become public knowledge due to the media’s fascination with Crane’s unsolved murder. Four years after the eight week trail, Carpenter passed. His wife placed blame on the trial and the overwhelming press for Carpenter's ill health. Bob Crane in Hogan's Heroes wearing uniform CBS, Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971)

41. They Tried Again 

In 2016, almost forty years after the grisly incident, reporter John Hook wanted to reopen Crane's case. In the meantime, using DNA to solve murders had become much more advanced. Hook, who worked for a Phoenix TV news station, requested samples of the blood found in Carpenter’s car. 

When Hook had someone analyze the samples, but one thing was certain. They only had one try as after they’d analyzed them, there were no more samples left. 

Reporter John Hook speaking in publicGage Skidmore , CC BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

42. There Was Something Unknown 

Hook had samples from the blood in Carpenter's car and he had samples that Carpenter had offered up to detectives and blood also from Crane. What he found out was this: There was the DNA of an unknown man in the car. While this does sound encouraging, in the end it meant little. Hook aired his show about the story and then dropped the case. It was cold again. 

DNA profileA U.S. Customs and Border Protection , Collections - GetArchive

43. He Has His Own Theory

Robert, Crane’s oldest son, has been living an unsettled life because he has no idea what actually happened to his father. He’s willing to believe the theory about John Carpenter being the guilty person, but he has another theory he would like to investigate and it’s a doozy. He thinks the guilty party could be someone very close to Crane: his ex-wife. Bob Crane and wife together with their childrenBettmann, Getty Images

44. Another Suspect 

Robert is the son of Crane and his first wife, and he feels that there is a reason to suspect Crane’s second wife of his father’s murder. Robert Crane says that Olson had a motive for getting rid of Crane. Crane and Olson had been on the verge of divorce, and Robert imagines that Olson would stand to gain a lot more money if Crane passed instead. 

There’s still another reason to suspect Olson: her weird behavior in the wake of her husband's demise.American actor Bob Crane (1928 - 1978) and his second wife, actress Sigrid Valdis (1935 - 2007) at event looking at the cameraFrank Edwards, Getty Images

45. She Moved Him

Many years after her husband passed, Olson did something strange. Without getting permission from any of Crane’s loved ones, she had his body moved. For some unknown reason, Olson paid to have Crane’s remains moved to a different cemetery. Her bizarre behavior didn’t stop there. 

She then got together with her son Scott and did something that no sane grieving widow would ever do. Bob Crane in Hogan's Heroes wearing uniformCBS, Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971)

46. They Were For Sale

Crane’s widow, Olson, partnered with her son and set up a website in memory of Crane. Instead of offering a place for fan’s to mourn the loss of Crane, Olson and her son offered up something for sale: Crane’s amateur video collection. These were obscene films. Wouldn’t a grieving wife and son want them buried forever? Bob Crane in Hogan's Heroes wearing uniformCBS, Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971)

47. He Destroyed Them 

Olson eventually passed in 2007, and her son had second thoughts about their online enterprise. Scotty Crane took the site down and instead has embarked on a new Crane-related activity. He wants the Radio Hall of Fame to induct his dad into its ranks. Oh and incidentally, Scott Crane destroyed all of his fathers scandalous photos, films and videos. Bob Crane graveMeribona, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

48. They Made A Movie

In 2002, Greg Kinnear appeared as Crane in Auto Focus, which told the story of Crane’s life. While most of Crane’s surviving family hated the film and refused to even see it, Crane’s oldest son, Robert Crane went as far as to help with the film. Not only did he loan the filmmakers his dad’s signature leather jacket from Hogan’s Heroes, he also accepted a small role in the film. 

Greg Kinnear  as  Bob Crane in suit Good Machine, Auto Focus (2002)

49. He Was Perfect

Behind all of the salacious stories about Bob Crane, there is another man that emerges. Co-stars on Hogan’s Heroes had nothing but nice things to say about Crane. Co-star Robert Clary said that Crane never held it above the other castmates that he made more money than them. 

He didn’t play any “I’m better than you” games while on the set. Crane’s daughter Karen remembers a perfect father. She has fond memories of Crane taking time from his busy schedule to play in the pool with the kids. In her memory, her father was ideal. But there was also a dark side to Crane. Portrait of Bob Crane in coat at the beachBettmann, Getty Images

50. He Was Just A Child

Bob Crane's second wife Patricia Olson gave a reason why she was seeking a divorce from Crane just days before the brutal attack on his life. She found out that Crane had shown his photos to her son Scotty. These were very inappropriate and she alleges that Crane showed them to Scotty when he was young.

Perfect father or perfectly awful man? Likely, we’ll never know who the real Bob Crane was.  

Bob Crane, circa 1975 in plaid jacketMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

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